Texas Republicans' new abortion ban is problematic for a great many reasons, but it's the vigilante-style system that makes it unique. As we've discussed, if some random person learns that a Texan had an abortion seven weeks after getting pregnant, he could file suit against the physician who performed the procedure. And the nurse who was in the room. And the friend who drove the woman to the health clinic. And the family member who gave the woman some money to help pay for the trip.
According to the state's new law, this random person, effectively deputized by Texas Republicans, could sue any of these people for $10,000 — plus attorneys' fees — turning anti-abortion activists into bounty hunters. GOP-appointed justices on the U.S. Supreme Court recently gave the law the green light, ending Roe v. Wade protections in the state, at least for now.
As NBC News reported, the public didn't have to wait too long before seeing the bounty dynamic unfold in practice.
An Arkansas man sued a Texas abortion provider Monday in what is believed to be the first lawsuit filed since the state's restrictive abortion law was enacted. The man, Oscar Stilley, a former lawyer who was convicted of federal tax evasion in 2009, sued Dr. Alan Braid, a Texas physician who publicly admitted to performing an abortion that was illegal under the new law, known as S.B. 8.
Braid, a physician in San Antonio, wrote a Washington Post op-ed, published over the weekend, in which he acknowledged treating a patient in defiance of Texas GOP's ban.
Braid wrote that he "provided an abortion to a woman who, though still in her first trimester, was beyond the state's new limit," adding, "I acted because I had a duty of care to this patient, as I do for all patients, and because she has a fundamental right to receive this care.
The doctor added that he was aware that he was inviting "legal consequences," which soon followed — but not because of actions taken directly by GOP officials in his home state.
Rather, thanks to the Lone Star State's new and bizarre model, Braid was instead sued by a stranger in another state, who's entirely unrelated to the physician's medical practice and patient. NBC News' report added that the Arkansan who filed the lawsuit against the doctor was "convicted of one count of conspiring to defraud the U.S. and two counts of tax evasion. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison and is finishing his sentence on home confinement."
In the lawsuit, Stilley refers to himself as a "disbarred and disgraced" former lawyer. He's also, in practical terms, Texas Republican legislators' deputy.
This is probably not the dream scenario SB8 proponents were waiting for.
Time will tell what becomes of the lawsuit, but as the developments unfold, it's worth emphasizing that as far as the American mainstream is concerned, this case shouldn't exist. A new Monmouth University poll, released yesterday, pointed to broad public opposition to the Texas law.
Two unique provisions of the Texas law are broadly opposed by the public. Seven in ten Americans (70%) disapprove of allowing private citizens to use lawsuits to enforce this law rather than having government prosecutors handle these cases. Additionally, 8 in 10 Americans (81%) disapprove of giving $10,000 to private citizens who successfully file suits against those who perform or assist a woman with getting an abortion.
In general, it's difficult to get 81 percent of Americans to agree on much, but we're nevertheless confronted with data in which 81 percent of the country agrees on this: Texas' bounty system is wrong.
GOP policymakers in other states, weighing whether to approve copycat measures, should take note.